The tagline for Nick Hornby’s ninth novel should be “Love happens you least expect it.” On, Just Like You he’s fashioned together an interracial and intergenerational romance between two unlikely individuals. The result is a very sweet and realistic book that could offer a breezy form of escapism for readers during the world’s continued Covid madness.
Hornby is best known as the author of the record-store satire High Fidelity and the football romp, Fever Pitch. He has also written various screenplays including Brooklyn. He certainly has a Dickensian knack for writing about everyday topics and making them engaging. In his latest novel he once again weaves in his love of music and football to round out the character of an aspiring young DJ who relates to his lover’s two boys.
The plot centres around a 42-year-old white woman named Lucy. She’s newly separated from her alcoholic husband. She lives a happy middle class life as an English teacher and Mum to two sons. It is at her high-end butcher shop that she meets a 22-year-old black man named Joseph. It is an unlikely pairing; but sparks fly.
The notion of Hornby writing about two main characters who do not share his own lived-in experience may unsettle some readers. Hornby is a white man so he could have been a tad tone-deaf in his musings, especially as the chapters alternate between both principal character’s points of view. The narrative is about an interracial couple living in London in 2016 during the Brexit vote and as arguments are presented for either side, things could have gotten heated. However, his knack for wry, social observation prevails and makes things believable.
This book might include some scenes where there is casual racism, but it is also quite funny at times. Hornby is adept at writing witty dialogue for his characters. He also makes both of the individuals feel authentic. Joseph has friends who are also aspiring artists so there are sub-plots during his chapters about these kinds of things. Lucy does play it safe at one point by having an uninspiring date with a stuffy, old novelist. In short, you find yourself wanting the incongruous coupling to succeed, even when the boy loses the girl on more than one occasion.
Just Like You is a sharp and highly readable story. It is also one that could double as a worthy time capsule. Hornby’s ability to capture minutiae and transform it into digestible slices of pleasant warmth is a joy. The stakes may be low but readers will enjoy this sweet little love story about two rather likeable individuals.